Kimberly Longey: WiredWest model is the right one for smallest towns

Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2015

PLAINFIELD — Recent news coverage of the impasse between the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and WiredWest is presenting a false choice to the Gazette’s readers. The broadband solution for communities in our region cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution.

While Leverett’s success in building a single-town fiber to the premise network is commendable, and I am happy for them and my friends who live there, a single-town network makes little sense for many less affluent and more isolated communities.

My community, Plainfield, has 648 residents and 344 “premises” (occupiable homes or businesses). We have giant swaths of federal and state and privately owned property tax-exempt land.

We have more than 25 square miles of township and more than 50 miles of road, most of it dirt.

Our total town operating budget is about $1 million and there are just 243 households that comprise our tax base. Our media household income of $37,250 is below the county and national average and about 10 percent of our residents are below the federal poverty line.

We do not want to build our own broadband network. That is why we are part of WiredWest and have voted, repeatedly at Town Meeting, at the ballot box and with our dollars, since 2011 to belong to WiredWest.

WiredWest is nothing but the towns. It is not some “other.”

It is a cooperative of some of the smallest, poorest and hardest to wire towns joining with wealthier communities to band together to build a regional network able to serve them all.

They are using the Massachusetts general law that requires communities desiring to deliver telecommunications services to their residents to form municipal lighting plants (MLP).

This same law allows several MLPs to come together to form a cooperative of MLPs. WiredWest is the towns using a legal structure to accomplish our goal of bringing future proof broadband to our communities.

With towns putting up two-thirds of the money to fund a broadband solution and with the other third coming from the Commonwealth (our own taxes) we should get to choose how we want to solve our broadband problems.

The WiredWest model allows profits from the network to be returned to towns to pay off the long-term debt which in turn avoids increases in property taxes.

This is critical for my town and the people who live here. WiredWest is about access and affordability first and foremost. These are essential elements of our chosen broadband solution.

So, let’s get on with solving this chasm between WiredWest and MBI. Let’s hear from MBI the specific issues they have with the proposed ownership of the WiredWest network. To date, despite repeated requests for details, there are none.

For those of us who have been working for more than a decade to close our digital divide, we have waited long enough.

Towns have the right and responsibility to choose their broadband solution. My town has chosen WiredWest.

Kimberly Longey lives in Plainfield.


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